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Sen. Rounds introduces bill to block Chinese farmland purchases such as Fufeng in ND

The legislation would bar entities linked with China and a handful of other countries from buying land or agricultural business in the United States, building on a similar proposal sponsored by Rep. Dusty Johnson in the House last month. Rounds linked the protection of American agriculture to national security, pointing to the controversy over Fufeng Group's purchase of land near Grand Forks Air Base.

South Dakota congressional delegation at DakotaFest.
The South Dakota congressional delegation — Rep. Dusty Johnson, seated at left, Sen. John Thune and Sen. Mike Rounds — participates in a Farm Bill forum at DakotaFest on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. The forum focused heavily on ways a strong Farm Bill can bolster American food security and national security.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service
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MITCHELL, S.D. — Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., has introduced a bill to block businesses from China and a handful of other countries from purchasing American farmland or agricultural businesses.

If passed, Rounds says the legislation would allow the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to review the purchase of land near Grand Forks Air Base in North Dakota by Fufeng Group , an agricultural company based in China. The purchase and subsequent proposal of a corn milling plant have turned into a major controversy in and around Grand Forks, with opponents worried about the possibility of Chinese surveillance of military activities.

“It's a good example of a purchase that should have some real oversight because they're really close to that base. And that base is a very sensitive base, you fly drones out of that,” Rounds told Forum News Service on Wednesday, Aug. 17, in an interview at DakotaFest. “They just chose that location of all the places they could go, and want to put in a corn processing facility. It seems a little out of place.”

Rounds and fellow South Dakota Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson, who sponsored similar legislation introduced in the House last month, both spoke about the importance of food security during a Farm Bill roundtable Wednesday at DakotaFest in Mitchell.

The bill would also require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to submit a report every 180 days on the "risks that foreign purchases of United States businesses engaged in agriculture ... pose to the agricultural sector of the United States."

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Rebecca Osowski is firmly against the proposed corn mill, while Tricia Lunski has grown more comfortable with the idea since the June election.

Though Rounds, who serves on both the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, said it is unlikely that the bill will get a hearing of its own, he is hopeful that it is considered as an amendment to a larger piece of legislation such as the Farm Bill. He added that the cross-committee appeal of the bill, which deals with banking, national security, agriculture and intelligence, would aid in gaining bipartisan support.

“We would get technical support from those committees, saying this is a good thing for committee members to support,” Rounds said. “On a bill like this, it’s possible you could get 65 or 70 votes in favor.”

The legislation introduced by Rounds builds on the House version of the Promoting Agricultural Safeguards and Security (PASS) Act , making sure that the targeted countries — which include Russia, North Korea and Iran in addition to China — are unable to get around the oversight by going through agents or shell companies. Johnson said he was glad that the view of agriculture as national security was “gaining momentum” in Congress.

“The reality is that we want to make sure that our adversaries don't have undue influence over critical supply chains. We have seen the kind of unfortunate leverage that Russia has over Europe, because of energy,” Johnson told Forum News Service. "We do not want China to have that kind of influence over American agriculture.”

The topic of food security was a major theme of the Farm Bill forum at DakotaFest, where Johnson and Rounds were joined by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and several speakers representing agricultural interests.

Chief among the issues related to protecting food security was the expansion of crop insurance and the streamlining of disaster relief, risk management priorities that Thune called the “cornerstone” of the omnibus bill set to expire in September 2023.

Scott VanderWal, the head of the South Dakota Farm Bureau, was one of several speakers to note that, despite programs like crop insurance or conservation being targeted to producers, consumers in America and around the world benefit from farmers willing to take on risk to create the food supply.

“Many of us were reminded of this when the pandemic began and we saw food prices climbing and grocery shelves became thin in spots or empty altogether in others,” VanderWal said. “Consumers in America were concerned about their ability to get food at the grocery store. These recent times have highlighted in a big way the fact that food security is national security.”

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MORE BY JASON HARWARD
After heading to Rapid City for the debate, Gov. Kristi Noem left the state for a campaign event with gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake in Arizona. The move drew criticism from some who pointed to Noem's implication in September that recovery from back surgery would curtail her ability to travel for several months.

Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or jharward@forumcomm.com.

Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at jharward@forumcomm.com.
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